Saturday, July 11, 2009

You Want Evopunk? I'll Give You Evopunk.

Big Al sez, "I was an evopunk before you were an evopunk!"

This one goes out to the Art Evolved krew. You freaking maniacs!

This post is a response to this post.


An Unfinished and Very Rough Test-Boring
for the Next Draft of the Film Script

Gene Skinner left the service in twenty-forty-eight with a strong taste for crank, a gun capable of taking out hundred-foot long creatures that looked like a cross between a centipede and a loading dock, a nanite infection comprising twenty per cent of his body weight, and a chronic inability to give a shit about any situation that didn’t involve the possibility of death. Tall and athletic with a shaved head and eyes like coin slots filled with malice, Skinner was the kind of man whose silent twitchy presence discouraged conversation.

Skinner met Randall Duke on a refugee shuttle bound for Morrison Seven, a frontier timeline branched off the late Jurassic. The shuttle had been donated by some aliens who were much larger than humans; the brushed aluminum ceiling was thirty feet overhead while the white floor was dotted with hollows like an egg carton, each hollow fifteen feet across. Families and other social constructs took to the hollows while the rogues and lone-wolf types stalked back and forth under the dull reddish light and social services stayed behind their counters up near the pilot’s cabin where it was safe.

Skinner had spotted a group of USAnian teenagers sharking an Uzbek family for their travel rations; despite the last five presidencies and his tour of duty in the Mechazoic Settlement Conflict Skinner still harbored a vestige of patriotism and the sight before him offended his sense of the USA as a force for good in the multiverse.

Skinner made a point of looking elsewhere while he drifted towards the hassle on casual feet but there was no way he could avoid seeing Duke. Six foot six and an easy five hundred pounds, Duke had receding red hair, pale blue eye and a Fu Manchu mustache. Skinner stopped to take in the spectacle when Duke picked up a problem teen in each hand and began to engage in a little wall-to-wall social engineering.

Skinner had a reputation as a combat artiste in some pretty rarified circles; that didn’t stop him from appreciating the work of a gifted amateur. He didn’t step in until a couple of youths had managed to work their way behind Duke. Skinner didn’t kill them – the Uzbek kids were watching – so they were still making noises when Duke turned around.

The fat man took things in quickly and stretched out a hand to Skinner, who shook it. That was five years ago. These days they had a small but sturdy reputation on Morrison Seven – for a certain type of job a smart organism hired Skinner and Duke.


The Transit Authority building in New Deseret was built in the traditional style, one originally developed to be the boot of an orbital tower, a vast coliseum-type structure covered in the matte green panels of algae farms, the produce of which was used in TA relief efforts. Of course no one was going to be building an orbital tower in Utah – sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between tradition and humor when you were dealing with the TA. Morrison Seven wouldn’t have direct access to the Transit system until its refugee population built their own tower and that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

The Transit cop’s processor was made out of about three tons of molten osmium interfaced with a temperature-resistant fluorocarbon atmosphere, the whole thing powered by masers, scanned by gravity wave detectors, and contained in the electron cloud of an artificial macro-atom five yards across. That kind of baroque engineering made Skinner think the cop was further up in the TA hierarchy than his (it used a male voice) job would suggest.

“You know anything about the gastrolith trade?” The voice seemed to emerge from the swirl of foamy vortices in the white-hot metal; again, nicer tech than you’d expect from a Transit cop, most of whom were smooth beige trashcans on treads. He used a vernacular that was calculated for compatibility with that of Skinner and Duke; Transit Authority were good people, assuming ‘people’ was the right word.

Duke stroked his mustache with thumb and forefinger and frowned. “It’s a Magpie thing, right? Sauropod gastroliths. They use them for making a tonic or something, pay pretty good money.”

“Boner pills,” Skinner said.

Duke looked at him and lifted one eyebrow, a move Skinner had caught him practicing in the mirror more than once.

“They use them to make boner pills. Like Viagra or rhino horn or something.”

Rhinos had been extinct in Skinner’s home timeline for quite a while but everywhen they were still alive people were shooting them for the horns. Some things don’t change.

“That’s right,” the Transit cop said and swirled so the osmium splashed against the walls of the macro-atom, keeping the complex patterns of thought in motion. “Just like rhino horn; there’s no pharmaceutical effect. The thing is that the hunters who go out after the gastroliths? Over time about seventy per cent of them don’t come back.”

“It’s the Jurassic,” Duke said. “What do you expect?”

“A long-term thirty per cent fatality rate. We don’t make mistakes about this kind of thing. And since the gastroliths move through the Transit system this is under my jurisdiction.”

“Okay,” Duke said. “What do you want us to do about it?”

“For now I want you to sign up as stone hunters and do what comes naturally. I’m not expecting you to solve this, just help me gather information.”

Skinner held up his hand, made an opening in the conversation. “What about pay?”

“I can stake you a camper and gear for now. When you’re done we’ll take a look at how things work out.”

Duke shifted uneasily in his chair. “Well,” he said.

“If you find out what’s happening to those prospectors I can promise you an upgrade on your transit cards.”

Duke perked right up. “I think that could work for us,” he said.


The market was one of the only public spaces on Morrison Seven where you could meet non-humans. It was a flat span of hard-packed red dirt that had been part of the fern prairies ten years ago; by now it had been trampled and worked over and the only plants you could see were milkweed and wild oats. More refugees crowding out the natives.

Overhead a tethered dome was held aloft by hot air; in its shadow were businesses run from stands and shanties, tents and prefab office buildings and the occasional ratty sleeping bag covered with someone’s last few possessions. It took Skinner and Duke nearly half an hour to find a Magpie working the gastrolith trade.

“You is verification,” Mr. Big Johnson said and gestured with one wing toward the camera on the table in front of his perch. His voice was, for the moment, the same as Duke’s.

Skinner thought he was trying to be a pain in the ass; it went along with his perch and his human name. Magpies were as comfortable on the ground as humans were but whoever had the highest head had the highest status. Sitting on a perch was like a short man wearing lifts.

The Magpies were dinosaurs from a timeline where the asteroids that caused the Cretaceous extinction had been nuked until they missed the Earth. They were descended from arboreal maniraptorans who had left the forests for the savannahs. They had black-and-white feathers and the faces of toothy owls along with the typical maniraptoran sickle-claw. They weighed about thirty pounds each and were still capable of limited flight. Despite these exotic details their evolutionary history had given them social and personal characteristics that were as close to human as it got. In other words you couldn’t trust them for shit.

“Digital records for the purposes of lying, my friends. We use old analog tech of your noble people, photochemical emulsion on plastic film in sealed canister. We develop ourselves and for sure you bring us the gizzard stones and not some river trash, you know? Any round rock it will not do.” Mr. Big Johnson opened his snub beak to show sharp little teeth and bobbed his head up and down. “Ha-ha-ha!”

Mr. Big Johnson’s assistance animal picked up the camera and held it out to Duke. It was another feathered dinosaur with a silvery Magpie control blob on the side of its head, feathers patterned in green and tan with a cream-colored underbelly. This one was a local, something like the fossil Ornitholestes, and despite their similar size and body shape it was as closely related to Mr. Big Johnson as rat-headed Purgatorius was to Skinner and had an IQ slightly inferior to that of a chicken. It opened its long, narrow jaws and echoed its boss in a parrot-squawk imitation of Duke.



The auto EQ in Skinner’s earplugs reduced the sound of the chainsaw to the same level as the buzzing of the insects swarming around the dead saddleback and the Coollar around his neck kept him from dropping in the Jurassic heat. Duke claimed he preferred Kool Kuffs but Skinner thought that was just because Duke was a head-and-shoulders guy – no neck. Either way the tech was simple – refrigerated bands of metal wrapped close to the blood vessels of the neck or wrists.

The saddleback was a diplodocoid more than a hundred feet long, named for the sage-and-rust markings that broke up its vast profile. In the promotional literature Mr. Big Johnson had given them along with their contract saddlebacks had been identified with the fossil Seismosaurus; this reinforced Skinner’s doubts about the whole scene. It smelled like false authority. No field scientist would ever try and match a living thing to a fossil. Seismosaurus was a name attached to some hundred and fifty million year-old bones. Skinner had shot the saddleback only twenty minutes ago.

And now Duke was cutting it up while Skinner stood on top of its ribcage, keeping watch. He had combat spex over his eyes and they were getting a feed from the sight of his gun, vision going up into the ultraviolet and down into the infrared. The dusty smell of cedars was in the breeze, coming from a line of trees following a nearby river. The ferns were brown and crisp at their crowns but there was green at their bases. It was still early in the dry season.

The sound of the chainsaw cut off and Duke hollered up at Skinner. “This ain’t no job for a fat man!”

“If you didn’t bitch so much you’d be done by now.” Skinner scanned methodically from his feet to the horizon, then shifted position and did it again. “You want a Stern Fellow?”

Duke wiped his hand on his pants, then swiped his hand across his forehead, splattering drops of sweat against the dusty ferns. “Fuck no. I want to sleep tonight. Hey, you take your pills today?”

“Yes, I took my pills,” Skinner said. As if he needed to be told…

“Don’t be touchy. I just don’t want to be stuck out here with the gray goo is all.”

Gray goo. That term wasn’t just out of date, it was fucking antiquated. For some reason that got under Skinner’s hide – being told he might turn into gray goo was like being told he had dropsy or scrofula. What Duke didn’t get was that the nanite infection wasn’t a disease.

It was a feature.

Duke was getting the gastroliths out of the saddleback. He’d set up the camera Mr. Big Johnson had given them and was cutting a channel through the beast’s chest with the chainsaw and a pitchfork. A blue tarp was spread on the ground, ready to receive the gizzard. Duke was about to start up the chainsaw when Skinner hissed and made a cutting motion with his free hand.

There was the sound of a distant engine. Skinner spotted a dark shape in the sky that wasn’t a pterodactyl. As soon as his eyes focused on the shape the spex acted as binoculars and gave him a clean image of an ultralight, a big triangular wing with a man and an engine slung underneath.

“Didn’t take long to find us,” Skinner said.

Duke spat. “I bet you five bucks they’ve got a bug in the camera.”

Skinner nodded and scrambled off the saddleback...

Friday, July 10, 2009

... And One To Go

I'm actually liking the pieces I'm doing out of desperation more than some of the earlier ones where I was more focused and purposeful. There was a point in this one where I decided it was a Phung from Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure. Of course, it's missing its hat and cloak... Sorry, Jack.

So if I can knock out the last illustration tomorrow I'll be able to do the rest of my fiddling with Swill on Sunday and then tackle the fucking novel head-on on Monday.

Unfortunately, I went back and looked at my first illustrations and they all are so much weaker than the current crop that I'm going to have to go back and redo them. Fortunately, the hard work of composition in Photoshop is finished for all of them and I just need to do the fiddly rendering in Illustrator, which I've come to really enjoy. It'll be a full workday, but I'll be able to do it.

Fingers crossed.

Actually, Today Is Pretty Typical, So Far

Note the CD case for scale. What I hadn't counted on was the way it would smell when I opened it up; a pungent stink of stale soy sauce. I'm scanning the back now; next, I'll have to take it apart and scan the bits. Note to self -- wash your hands.

Lessee. It started at four this morning when I was jolted awake by a particularly hideous hypnogogic hallucination. It was, as they all are, multisensory, and in this case taste and touch were the key senses. It was influenced by this. Don't click on the link unless you want to be exposed to something that was bad enough to to get under my skin. Let's just say that in my dream/vision/brief trip to the psycho ward, I was in the middle.

(Sigh. Now I'm trying to figure out how to write something to top that horrible experience. For horrorists, the atrocity competition is getting stiffer all the time.)

So I grab the Discman I have sitting next to the bed and put on my relaxation CD. This soothes me enough to get back to sleep. And my dreams are pleasant and optimistic until I am awakened by the sound of Roxie, our Jack Russel terrier, going berserk.

Here's a tip. Don't wake an insomniac, particularly if they're finally sleeping after an extended period of deprivation.

I scream at the dog. Does no good. Still screaming, I stagger into the living room. Note that at this point I still have my earplugs in (I sleep with earplugs, a face mask, a pillow over my head -- if I could sleep in a sensory deprivation tank I'd be a happy man.). I swing clumsily and blindly at her; I miss, thank goodness, but she shuts up until I'm back in the bedroom, at which point she continues and I go back to screaming at her.

Finally I regain enough consciousness to shut up, take out the earplugs, put on my glasses, reclaim my status as a sentient organism, and find out what the hell has been going on for the last ten minutes. I hear a voice from the porch; a man, saying something about garlic and olive oil.

What. The fuck.

Choking down enough of my brute rage to engage in civil discourse, I pull on some clothes and walk back to the front door. The missus pops in, holding a plastic bag.

"What the hell is going on?" I ask her.

"It's my sweet potato greens," she says.

Jibbedy jabbedy WHA?

"I found them on line," she said.

"Oh." sez I. What the hell would you have said? "So why did you stay there on the porch while the fucking dog was barking and you knew I was asleep?"

"Oh," sez she. "I'm sorry."

Now here's the thing. Time for another Lovecraft reference. The star that shines in the east, the perfect love of my life, is the paradigmatic example of Lovecraft's dictum that the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents.

She knew that I'd been sleeping poorly all week. She knew that I was currently asleep. She knows very, very well that I'm sensitive to sounds when sleeping -- she was the one who bullied me into using earplugs in the first place. She knew the dog is barking. She also knew that if she either invited the stranger inside, stepped out to the sidewalk, or let the dog out the barking would soon stop.

She did not correlate any of this information; she was in the moment, her only interest being sweet potato greens. And the real irksome thing was that she was sitting there listening to fucking recipes when she's gonna make me cook the fucking things for her anyway. And I can't get mad at her for this. If she'd thought the situation through she would have behaved differently and she was genuinely sorry.

The oaf shrugs his shoulders, glances at the ceiling: That's my gal.

And anyway, she has to put up with me. Yeah, being woken up when sleep is desperately needed is a thing -- but talking to a stranger while listening to your pet lummox bellowing incoherently from three feet away is another.

That's what makes our relationship work. Two wrongs don't make a right but sometimes they make parity.

So I enter the day feeling as though I'd been beaten with a hammer, still dizzy from sleeplessness and with a lingering sense of filthy contamination from my sleep-deprived hallucination. (Don't click that link up there, honest to Goatse. Just know that my lips were sewn to the last thing you'd want someone to sew to your lips. And I tasted and felt it. I'm still skeeved out.)

I staggered upstairs, checked my email, found out about Philippine superheroes (who taught me a valuable lesson -- scantily-clad women dressed in elaborate costumes are the gayest thing in the world), wrote a few wise-assed Twitters, and then went for a hike and a burger with my dad, said ritual being one of the pillars of my life.

Our new concept of the day was a pretty good one. The basic idea was his but I provided some valuable elaborations.

We're going to put together a list of twenty-five basic phrases that will say everything you ever need to say. Each phrase will be assigned a number, and when conversing with someone in the know, all you'll have to do is say the number and they'll know exactly what you mean.

When enough people are involved and the idea crosses language barriers? All you have to do is memorize the numbers one through twenty-five in a given language and you can get along in that country just fine.

Our Tentative Start:

1. Please help me.
2. Thank you very much.
3. I am very sorry.
4. I would prefer not to.
5. Fuck you.
6. No, fuck you. (Please note that this system of communication is not well-suited to conversation -- phrases five and six are intended to address that issue. You can talk for hours with just those two.)
7. I yam that I am. (We couldn't decide who said this better - Jehovah or Popeye.)

That was as far as we got by the time he dropped me off at home, but I feel as if our system is well on its way to being the next Esparanto.

When I got home I fell into a bit of a funk. Usually I'm able to get in a good four hours or so of work in the morning on a hiking day, but I'd lost all that time this morning. Worse, I'm all out of inspiration. And I want to be done with the fucking magazine.

So I decided to take some photos and make some scans and squeeze inspirado out of a stone. That's what I'm doing now. I'm writing this as I scan a vast and stinking lubber grasshopper, a cut slab of stone, an old chrysalis...

Hopefully, I'll have something done by the end of the day -- I'm gonna try and work through until I have at least the start of another composition.

Maybe I'll sleep tonight. I'm not gonna bet on it, though.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ten Down And Two To Go...

Like I always say, when in doubt, steal from Lovecraft or Chandler. Just remember, it's entirely uninterested in any human concept, so don't take its actions personally.

The brain, she is crunchy like the chip. I'm at the point where all I can think about is getting this done, finito, out of the way.

Two more illustrations from scratch, and then two of the first ones I did need fixing, now that I've developed my method. And in addition to the illustrations, there are seven decorative tailpieces and one of them needs to be redone.

But it's only a matter of days. I must be strong.

And then I can really sink my teeth into the novel... and start in on the outline for the next draft of volume two. But for the moment?

My brain, she is crunchy. Like the chip.

Ah, but it's band night. There will be beer and cigarettes and conversation, and I've found the last lines I need for the lyrics to Two-Fish Louie's Explanation, which means we can start developing the vocals. And we've started monkeying with When I Paint My Masterpiece. It's a nice simple one-four-five song, with a slow loping beat that's dead easy to jam to. I'll probably figure out a solid bass line for it eventually but right now I'm having a hoot just letting my fingers wander. And now I'm wandering.

Because the brain.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Because I Am An (expletive delayed) Artist, (expletive delayed) It.

This is a little busy, but it's going to be printed as a diptych, so the composition will look a lot more reasonable on the page. Now I'm down to three illustrations (and two revisions of illustrations I thought I'd finished) before I'm done with Swill.

I've got a confession, though. I am officially at the, "Just scan a bunch of crap and make a nice composition out of it," stage. The, "Oh, they'll be able to read something into it," stage. The fraud stage.

Last night, Rob said, "Someone was asking me why Swill was taking so long to produce, and I told them it was because Sean had to do twice as many illustrations this time. They asked me why you had to do all the illustrations and I told them it was because Swill was an entity."

Yes. That would be the case.

(Posted later, after I placed the above in the magazine -- it looks swell as a diptych. While I was working on it, I had two layers that had gray rectangles that blocked off either the left or the right side so I could see how each half would look on its own. The resulting centerfold is a lot more pleasing than the whole thing in one slab.)

So this morning, the missus played one of her tapes for me. It was the, "You should stop wasting your time on art and focus on your writing," one. This is something that I have to address every once in a while -- I explain things to her and sometimes she gets it and sometimes she doesn't. She's a brilliant woman but she has a knack for forgetting things that don't fit her needs...

(And oh! my best beloved, to whom this post is directed, you didn't pull that crap on me when this was happening.)

Anyway, I came up with a good one this time. "That's like telling a boxer that they should give up track work and spend all their time working on punching."

I've talked about this a bit here and there but this seems like a good excuse to explain why I'm not just a writer or visual artist or musician. Why I have to do all that stuff -- and why I'm thinking about the day when I can try my hand at sculpture and film making and...

Well, it pisses me off when she starts talking like that. So I've got to make an overly-elaborate reply, even though I shut her down in a somewhat high-handed fashion. (L'amour est guerre, baby, and in this case I'm the occupied nation...) So get ready for a boring diatribe that will probably sound like bragging a lot of the time.

Now I could defend myself from a practical standpoint. I could say that my art is an important element of Swill and that Swill has given me some very valuable contacts in the writing community. Or I could point out that this site, which has been of great value to me, owes most of its tiny-but-treasured fistful of readers to my visual art.

But the real issue is that creativity is the set, and writing is just a subset. Art is the experience of the world filtered through an individual. Even the most trivial art is the result of a lifetime's living as interpreted by its creator. Art is a fractal -- if you look at it from the proper distance, everything has the same shape.

As the Bellman said, "What I tell you three times is true." I wrote about this in one of my posts about plotting. To paraphrase, many of the crucial elements in the arts are used across the board. Rhythm and timing exist in both music and prose -- and in art, the same element translates to composition. Repetition and variation occur in all arts. A sense of where to let things open up and where to include lots of detail -- again, that concept can be beneficially applied to any creative field.

Working in different arts gives you a variety of perspectives on these principles that you can't get in any other way -- and once you start feeling them in one arena, you can use them in others. That's one of the keys to art -- learning those principles so well that you don't have to think about them. If you don't do that you can't riff, you can't freestyle, you can't jam. You're static. You're fucked.

And one of the crucial elements in my writing is that I don't limit myself to verbal thinking when I work. When I write I perceive/hallucinate my subject matter with as many of my senses as possible -- and then I describe what I've 'experienced.'

If I just wrote, I would imagine in words -- and I think that would weaken my work. Yeah, I'd be more technically skilled, my prose would be more polished, but I think that one of my gifts as a writer is my ability to immerse the reader in a scene. I would not be able to do this if I were limited to verbal thinking. And I think this ability is more important to most readers than an elegant prose style or a graceful plot.

(Not to denigrate two skills with which I am fucking obsessed.)

And to be a little bit more specific... Writing is my primary concern. Visual art was my primary concern for years. And music is something I do purely for fun. But the novel? It's about a musician, and music is central to the plot. And I wouldn't be able to write about it if I didn't play a little myself. Many of the fantastic elements in the book originated as artworks, and my art continues to be a primary source of inspiration for the writing. I believe these influences are crucial to the quality of the work I'm doing, such as it is. The novel wasn't written by writing. I drew the novel, composited the novel, composed the novel, played the novel. If I just wrote I would have nothing but words on the page. Fuck that.

And anyway, sweetie (this is for the missus, you're reading over her shoulder) I tried to give up art, remember? Got rid of my art supplies, joined a writer's group? It didn't fucking work, did it?

I know you're gonna give me a hard time over this again. But be warned. My reaction will be even more ridiculous than writing a fucking essay justifying myself. I'll go further. I have no idea what my response will be, but I can tell you this much.

It will probably involve illustrations.

Monday, July 6, 2009

When Good Things Happen To Crude People

I gotta admit, this is one of my favorite drawings and I've never posted the whole thing before. Yeah, that's pretty much what I look like. "It's the people in front that I jar." Throw in some drugs, fat chicks, musical instruments, and the violent overthrow of the government and that's pretty much what I think about, too...

So I've been in a good mood lately. (And once more, the blog reveals itself as an accurate emotional barometer for the oaf -- frequent posts lacking in angst means a good mood.) I had a ridiculously good bout of yardsales on Saturday -- I'll show you photos of my new baritone ukulele when I get it in shape. (Actually, I'm gonna tune it E-A-D-G and treat it as a tenor bass rather than a baritone ukulele -- gonna try and learn how to do solos on it.) And despite the missus being out of town my good mood has lasted the weekend intact.

Yesterday I decided to stretch myself and go to a party. I've mentioned that as a feral child (When I refer to myself using this term around the missus, she gets real serious and says, "You really are a feral child, you know." I know, sweetie. I know. So does everybody else.) I have a few issues around socialization and tend to be very, very uncomfortable around people I don't know unless I have a specific role to play that I know about in advance.

I had a swell time. No anxiety involved -- I was completely at my ease for the whole thing.

And at the end of the evening I would up hanging out with the host and hostess for hours -- it made me think about my pre-Karen days when most of my friendships were with couples. (I think that for a lot of my pals I was as much a surrogate child as I was a friend. A surrogate child who could move your stove.) Gave a pleasant nostalgic vibe to the evening for me, in addition to the feeling of cementing new relationships.

And there were beers, pina coladas, mead, shots of Bacardi 151, and flavored tobacco smoked from an honest-to-Arabian-Nights hookah. All in moderation, of course. I remained presentable throughout.

Here's a bit more on the party.
Thanks for the swell time, Allison and Adam!

That would have been plenty. But the onslaught of pleasant didn't stop there.

When I got home I was, of course, compelled to check my email. And one of my emails started out like this...

On behalf of the staff and the instructors, I'd like to welcome you as a student to Viable Paradise, and say congratulations!
This letter is an email confirmation of your acceptance to the 2009 Viable Paradise Writers Workshop, aka VP 13/XIII.

I got in? I got in. I got in!

Hey, motherfucker, better get this straight -- your momma's got a pussy like a 248. Runs on diesel, runs on gas, hey motherfucker gonna kick your ass!

This is the kind of thing that could really make a difference in my (say the word, oafboy -- sac up and say the fucking word) career. I mean, I'll be palling around with the guy who buys books for Tor, with one of the Braniacs, with the woman who wrote Glass Houses (a particularly swell second-wave cyberpunk novel) and a number of other luminaries, including one dude I've unfortunately slandered on this site. And one of the stories I submitted is my first attempt at a series that I've thought would be my Big Work for fucking decades. And...

And... And...

Shit, I couldn't sleep last night. I had to resist calling everyone I knew at fucking three in the morning. Right now I feel like hammered shit -- in a good way. Fuck it; I'm damned proud right now. I've been feeling better and better about myself over the last few years. And in these moments when I look at myself and see both promise and accomplishment, I've had a phrase go through my mind. It's from an old traditional song the Pogues covered...

So be easy and free when you're drinking with me
I'm a man you don't meet every day

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hey! Hey! I Forgot To Tell You & An Inadvertant Tutorial

So I needed a paleo-image to put at the top of the post. Rather than give you a crude sketch, I decided to sort throught the dustbin of history. I found a full-color piece -- and found myself compelled to throw a few changes on it. Here was the start of the work, a pencil drawing of what I believe is now known as Gorgosaurus libratus.

Hey, everybody! I forgot to tell you -- the new Art Evolved gallery is up! Go and look at Pterosaurs! There are some swell ones in there -- and you might want to check back on it in a few days. There's still work being posted.

And ol' Glendon Mellow's piece needs to be seen at a larger size. Click here to see it in it's full majesty. The subject matter and handling make me think of Allen St. John's work for Edgar Rice Burrough's fiction. I'll bet it's something to see live.

I had some reference photos I'd taken at the Miocene forest at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens and figured hey, it was close enough for government work. I colored it using hues selected from the photo using the Eyedropper tool. But I've always been a little unsatisfied with it. I wanted it to look like a snapshot of a Gorgosaurus and it looked like what it was -- a colored pencil drawing on top of a photo. And the overall color of it seemed drab and faded.

When I saw it again, it struck me that I could do something about that. I've got ten more years of Photoshop under my belt. Even if I didn't have the file with the layers on it, there were some global adjustments I could do that would make a difference.

The first thing I did was to beef up the color. I could have done that with an adjustment layer -- Hue & Saturation, Lightness & Contrast, Curves, or Levels could have worked alone or in conjuction with one another.

I had a better idea -- first, I went to Image Mode under the Image menu and changed it to LAB color. Then I added a Curves adjustment layer. When you use curves, you can apply them to the different channels of an image -- in RGB, there's an overall channel for the whole image, then seperate channels for red, green, and blue. In CMYK, there's the same thing going on, only the channels are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

LAB color is different. When you use curves in LAB, you have one channel for lightness, and the other two channels control relationships between different colors. Using a cute trick I'd show you if I knew how to make and work with screen captures (which I really need to learn, pronto), I used the curves adjustment layer to punch up the color to get the above result. And by helping the color, I helped the contrast.

Then I added a Brighness & Contrast adjustment layer, using it to increase contrast even more and to darken the overall image slightly.

Next came a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer. I left the hue alone but slightly decreased the saturation.

Finally, I converted the image itself to a Smart Object and added an Unsharp Mask filter. While I'd have been able to do a much better job if I'd been messing with the full file, now the image looks a lot more unified to me, as thought the Gorgosaur is in the same space as the forest. And it took less than ten minutes! Still one problem, though. The teeth look like shit.

So I added a layer, sampled the yellow of the teeth and generated a color a little cooler and darker than that, set the new layer to Multiply mode, and airbrushed some shadows over the teeth. Since I was using Multiply, that brought out the pencil marks underlying the color. That took me half an hour; I couldn't help myself. The compulsive oaf even went and used some Rubber Stamp tool on a few stray pixels you'll never see. But I think the end result is a great improvement.

Heh-heh-heh. I just glanced at the comparison between this image and the one below and was reminded of my greatest strength and weakness as an artist -- I never do nothing the same way twice.

I'll always remember the time I mentioned to the Monday writing group that my next submission was going to be completely different than anything they'd seen from me before -- and the room erupted in laughter.

When they were able to talk again, they explained to me that everything I did was completely different than anthing they'd seen from me before.

Makes it hard to build a brand.